Over the last few months we have been enduring the process of hiring. The key words here being "enduring" and "process." Hang on, I am not going to blog on hiring people. Jeez, there is no way I could fit it all in nor do I consider myself to be an expert. What I can tell you is how interesting the process has become given the advent of social media. Used to be you talk to someone, check their references, perhaps test their capabilities and offer them a job. Not any longer. The first place you now go is the Internet. Checking LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Even Googling the person to see if you can get any type of extra recon beyond the interview process. After all, people forget things. The Internet is the proverbial elephant that never forgets.
“If you stop eating donuts you will live 3 years longer. It's just 3 more years that you'll want a donut. - Lewis Black
Recent news has included stories about companies demanding people part with their Facebook account credentials during the interview process (Click Here). Same is true of a Marine facing discharge over Facebook comments (Click here ). Friends, these two instances are bellwethers for a series of new twists (or tactics) that we will see used in the information gathering game. These so-called "zero-cases" will be interesting to follow as they end up going legal (you know they will). While we wait on the wheels of justice, it occurred to me that companies need to really think about the other side of social media. The skinny end of the megaphone if you will. So kick up your feet and let's talk about what you should know.
Showing Your Style
So you have your company logo and perhaps a certain font that you use on your letterhead, website, brochures and other deliverables. This is the beginning of your presentation to the world, also known as "branding." Sounds big doesn't it? And you thought it was for huge companies, right? Not so in the Internet age. That is one of the nice things about the Internet. Everyone can appear to be the same size. Branding is very important to all companies. But it goes beyond look and feel. Consistency is also paramount. Here is what I mean. From time to time , some employees exert their creative genius in creating their own "branding" on company stuff. You know, the off-colored logo, the cursive font, the oversized text. My personal favorite is the ridiculous email signature. Took me a while to get my Dad away from this one. You know it as the huge logo (that is out of focus mind you) with your company name and supersized contact info. Trouble is, it’s a graphic file (usually a jpg) which routinely gets blocked by Outlook and most firewalls. Which means you get this big, tacky blue question mark where your beautiful graphic should be. And, guess what? You can't see the contact info because it is INSIDE the graphic. Ugh. Most business owners get irritated when this happens because they usually discover it unexpectedly or they are on the receiving end of one of these little jewels. Solving the problem is pretty easy though: don't let anyone send anything out from your company. Uh, not gonna happen. So therefore you need to have an established set of standards for this type of stuff. This is what a style guide is all about. And your company should have one in place to keep those armchair Picassos' in check. Moreover, to maintain consistency across all of the "views" of your company.
Social Media requires its own style guide. After all, it directly reflects the branding and messaging of a company. However, unlike a brochure or website, it is presented in a direct, personal and emotional way. Be mindful of the words I chose here: direct, personal, emotional. Very powerful and at the same time remarkably dangerous. Kind of like chocolate. People like the idea of connecting with other people, especially at an emotional level. Social networking enables a type of direct contact and evokes a certain level of bonding. Your chances of emailing George Clooney are remote. Visiting with him on his cellphone even more remote (that is unless you're Stacey Kiebler or Brad Pitt). But if you follow him on Twitter, he "talks" to you all the time. And you can talk back. Want to wish Tom Cruise a happy birthday? Just go to Facebook. After all he is your "friend." This is good stuff when used properly. Trouble is there is no vetting process and people can freely speak their mind, absent of fact-checking and truth, and packed with a mortar shell of emotion.
Web 2.0? I Barely Knew Web 1.0.
Social media is the key pillar in what has now become known as Web 2.0. I know you have heard that term but were likely not sure what it meant. Well, according to the great tin-foil-hat-wearing Internet gods, the first iteration of the Web was not social or interactive enough. Which is ironic when you consider Web 1.0 effectively killed off those old interactive online communities. Places like AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. These were places where people would electronically assemble and "talk" to each other. Yet by using one of those services, you effectively chose a side since they weren't connected to each other. You weren't "online" per se. You "used" AOL. Saying you were online implied you were a propeller head on the Internet...literally. And no, they were NOT the same. Kind of like telling a man that boxers and briefs are just different names for underwear. They are not and never will be. A man wearing boxers will never use the word underwear. He wears boxers. The same is not true of the brief's man. He wears underwear. How on Earth did I get to underwear?
Ok, so, after defining (or confining depending on how you look at it ) ourselves to being a surfing and emailing society, it was decided we were becoming a bit socially inept in this new electronic world of ours. After all email seems so impersonal and two-dimensional. And the Internet was getting bigger; speeds getting faster and connectivity getting cheaper. Time for us to evolve beyond our friends in the neighborhood. We want to be friends with the world and share everything! So, as the Web matured, services such as , Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have emerged to instantly and electronically connect our personal lives with each other, anywhere we might roam. Interesting to think about what Web 3.0 will look like given how connected to each other we have now become. That will be something for a future blog.
It Was The Drink's Fault
Now then, some people have learned the lesson of (or the need for) measured responding thanks to some not-so-appropriate emails and texts. The emotionally charged response to a customer, friend, co-worker, or boss that, as you later learned, should have, I don't know, never seen the light of day beyond your mind's eye. "Oh god, I hit reply-all didn't I?" Or "Ugh, that party was supposed to be a surprise." Or that popular social pastime of "drinking and texting/tweeting." Yet even after being digitally smacked in the face, many still feel very compelled to share every waking moment with all their friends and followers. Social media really takes this stuff to a whole different level. And left unchecked causes...well...issues. Say you spray painted the side of your car with "I drink beer at work." This is perfectly acceptable (the statement not the spray painting of your car) if you work for Anheuser Busch. If not, chances are people are going to notice, especially when you get to work. And I think your opportunity for advancement will be, shall we say impaired (I couldn't resist). Let me put this another way: while it may be cool to brag to your friends about leaving on a beach trip for a week, you are making it easier for ill-willed "followers" to rob your home thanks to posting it on Twitter or Facebook. Don't believe me? Check this Robbed from Facebook Article . Also, in case you don't know, Facebook is not the place to post that picture of beer funneling in P.C. (Panama City for those out of the vernacular loop) regardless of how old or young you think you are. These examples all represent the difference between risk and risky. Now you are starting to get the idea.
So what do you do? Well, first you have to get a grip on what you can and cannot control. There are two buckets here. One is the company bucket which you can control. The other is the employee bucket with limited control . Start by embracing the idea that social media should be governed by a code of conduct. Code of conduct implies a level of personal and moral responsibility in addition to accountability. It can easily be placed into your Computer Use Policy (yes you should have one of these) or become its own freestanding rule. In reality it should be a "life rule," right? The key here is making people aware of the collateral damage that can come from the most innocuous comment. I know it sounds elementary and perhaps smells of common sense. It is. But just like you have long since forgotten how to do long division with a pencil and paper (the precursor to calculators and computers), people need to be reminded from time to time. I don't necessarily want to focus on specific things to do with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Instead, this is more about best practices that apply to just about all social media (and some other communication forms for that matter). In other words, here is the ointment; apply it liberally to the infected areas.
Measure Twice; Cut Once.
Know this: The Internet is the first place people go to learn about you, your business, and your employees. That is now our world. Not only is it important that you gainfully understand this reality, you should embrace it. Customers and other companies need to see you and your employees represented in social media. It implies that you are accessible and have a human dimension. Something that a website simply cannot convey. It's the wrong tool. See, social media is all about bringing people in for a closer look.
Your corporate social media strategy should begin and end with this understanding: it belongs to the corporation and remains under its control. You wouldn't send out a brochure with improper grammar (at least you shouldn't). So why would you allow a post to contain incorrect information? Also, link things together wherever possible. An example would be making sure that the individual LinkedIn pages of employees are linked to the company LinkedIn page. You'll notice I didn't say personal pages. While these pages can be personalized, they should not be personal. Be sure you know the difference. As you add new people, part of your onboarding process should include adding them to social media systems such as LinkedIn. While the LinkedIn account may belong to an employee, they must understand that any content including or referring to the firm is something that falls under the guidelines of the company, its copyrights, and business intelligence. Latitude can be given to how things may be structured, however, the core contents are governed and controlled by this new social media policy in order to ensure consistency. Remember, these pages represent you and your company.
So now that you have Facebook and LinkedIn looking nice, neat, and organized, you now have to face the demon: Posting. Doesn't matter if you call it a Tweet, or Status Update, or How You Feel...they are all the same. It is a post. This is where people get a bit brave and will require, shall we say, the imparting of firm wisdom. No one in their right mind would jump into a pool of hungry alligators. Yet many people will do the equivalent in the social media world. And guess what? Like Betty White, It lives forever. You can't take it back . I am no legal expert but I will hazard a guess that you can't keep people from posting things on their personal Facebook pages. So they can say pretty much whatever they wish. The fun comes into play when they involve a company. See companies are very plugged into customers who post negative things about them or their products, especially that which brings harm to the company or its employees (wow that last sentence sounded very lawyer-ish now didn't it). Want worse? How about when an employee's personal posting, albeit on their own Facebook page, negatively influences someone about the company. Or the tweet from the company account that is...well...just plain inappropriate on ten different levels; something even a high school kid wouldn't send out let alone a mature adult in the corporate world. And I've seen some doozies. So much so that the damage control required after one of these epic posts is worse than Mike Rowe's latest assignment on "Dirty Jobs. "
You can't keep all the negative juice off your clean white company coat. However, you can reduce your surface area of exposure. You have the obvious: corporate posts to the likes of Facebook and Twitter must never contain disparaging remarks or anything negative about the firm. And it is no place for raw emotion. The essence of corporate update posting or tweeting is all about placing timely and relevant information into the hands of your followers. Timely and relevant does not include bathroom visits, the tour dates for The Eagles Final-Last All Done tour, or the fact that the IT overlords will not let you watch Game of Thrones at work, even during lunch. Nor is it s place for you to vent that your boss takes credit for all your work and won't give you the 50% raise you deserve. The same rules should apply to email that employees send and receive while employed by a company. While you would hope that people gravitate towards common sense when it come to these things, a stated policy is really required for enforcement. Trust me when I say that if the day comes when you invite someone to leave because of a Twitter post, you want to have a stated policy behind it and not argue the termination based on common sense.
Finally, be aware and sensitive to social media overload. The act of multiple tweets or other posts from the same person each and every day. Sometimes I login to LinkedIn and see no less than twelve posts in the same day from the same person or company. I'm not kidding. I am glad to feel the love but that is a little much. Too much. I simply don't have the time to read all those posts or articles linked to them. So what do I do? I move past them. Now you've lost me as an audience. And that my friends is the kiss of death in the SoMe world. Think about this when you post: Informative: yes; timely: most definitely; limited: absolutely. Give your audience something to look forward to and captivate their attention. This way you can remain relevant and bubble to the top of the social media list we all navigate each day. Also, you've got to know your audience. Not everyone shares your passion about every subject. Bear that in mind as you share your views or take up space in people's social media bucket.
The Pin Has Been Pulled
We're in the early stages of social media and we are all learning as we go. It really wasn't until recently that we as a company started to look at it more closely. Like many of you, we just weren't sure how we wanted to leverage it. It's one thing to own a hammer. It's another to know how to use it. As I have been living this process recently, it became apparent to me that while I don't know where the social media road will take us, I am keenly aware of the potholes connected to the uninhibited and unchecked posts. It is inevitable that someone will lob the hand grenade over the fence and run in the other direction, whether intentional or accidental. I believe it is our job to reduce the amount of collateral damage that takes place as a result. Moreover, our job is to secure the grenades.
Copyright © Richard Harber, Decision Digital Inc. All Rights Reserved